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Fin Whale Sighting Summary 12 April to 31 May by John Conlon

Fin Whale Sighting Summary 12 April – 31 May , 2008

John C. Conlon

We are now two months into the 2008 whalewatch season and the year has started  nicely regarding fin whales. Between mid-April and mid-May much of our whalewatch time was spent close to Provincetown. As mid-May passed we began to spend more time farther from town. The southwest corner and middle bank regions of Stellwagen Bank became more frequent areas of observation. Early this year we had good and regular sightings of fin whales. As the season has progressed we have spent less time close to Provincetown have had fewer fin whale sightings. I have seen few fin whales during my time at sea over this past several weeks. We are, however, talking about April and May. While it is common for us to see fin whales working along Provincetown beaches in the early season, our last two years (2006 and 2007) have produced few sightings of fin whales in the second half of May. Our experience over the end of May this year is similar to our exrperiences of the last couple years.
With the lack of sightings of late May aside the month preceeding late May offered sightings of fin whales that provided great photographic data. Preliminary photographic analysis has revealed at least 17 individual fin whales. Eight of those 17 individuals have long sighting records locally. Lightning is a male first seen here in 1979. Braid, another male, was first photographed here in 1980. And Scorpion, a female who had her second known calf last year, was first recorded here in 1981. Other known individuals sighted this year are Belt, Boomerang, Comb, Delta, and Spike.
In addition to those 17 individuals we also recorded three mother / calf pairs. The difficulty of working with fin whales in general combined with the rarity of mother / calf sightings (fewer photographs to make quality identification matches) make photo analysis of fin whale mother / calf pairs difficult. To date we have we only one photographed sighting of each recorded mother / calf pair. Having said this the photos are mostly good. That is to say the photos are in decent focus and are shot at good angles to the animals. It would be great if we get more looks at these animals as the year continues.
As was the case last year, some of our Dolphin Fleet guides have been able to get great 3 to 5 shot sequences of several fin whales. These sequences run from the foreward head to aft of the dorsal fin and are important to our fin whale catolog development and any field identification. We are also getting good images of difficult-to-see-in-the-field marks such as light propeller and entanglemaent scars. These scars add yet another distinct mark that makes individuals more easily identified and are at the same time evidence of sad and potentially tragic interactions between humans and fin whales. Further data analysis will help to better understand the frequency of these interactions.
I am looking foreward to the upcoming months of whale watching. Field data collection will deepen our understanding of fin whales’ distribution throughout the year. Perhaps we will get more looks at the mother / calf pairs. Perhaps we will get more photos of  individuals sighted earlier this year. And maybe those photos will help us to connect those individuals to previous history in the area around Cape Cod Bay and Stellwagen Bank. Please come and join us at some point during this season!